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The “Break Stuff” compilation harnesses nu-metal for liberation

Featuring artists from across Wisconsin and beyond, the release raises money for Urban Triage.

What do Slipknot, Deftones, and a burning Madison Police Department cruiser have in common? All are featured on a newly released cover compilation created by a Madisonian. 

Break Stuff: A Benefit Compilation For Black Lives is a collection of nu-metal and early aughts metal cover songs created to benefit Urban Triage, a local nonprofit advocating for empowerment and healing in the Black community. As a self-described punk and metal aficionado, Brian Kohl saw other compilations popping up in the past year and it was an easy decision to make. “I was inspired by a bunch of friends who had participated in similar projects that were benefits for Black Lives Matter and adjacent causes as a reaction to the waves of police violence we saw over the summer,” Kohl says.

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One compilation that stood out to Kohl was the collection put together by the pop punk oral historians of the Blink-155 podcast. It’s Really Good To Hear Your Voice is a 65-cover-deep bizzaro binder full of different bands, each one covering the 2000s butt-rock anthem “Lips Of An Angel” by Hinder. “I saw the success of that [compilation] and how fun that was and decided to do something similar for a more local cause,” Kohl says.

Keeping it as niche as possible, Kohl began to reach out to bands online and through friends who would want to cover any 2000s nu-metal singles. It’s not as much of a gag as some people might assume: “We’re getting closer to an almost equal amount of ironic and sincere appreciation of the genre and that era and I think the compilation covers more of the sincere side of the spectrum.”

Listeners who have likely retired their chokers or Tripp pants may indulge in a blast from the past with some of this comp’s highlights. 2nd And Archer, a Stevens Point deathcore quintet, delivers a menacing and stripped-down cover of Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer.” The cover features deep guttural vocals and early 2000s Mitch Lucker-esque squeals with slam dance-approved pinch harmonics and pulverizing blast beats.

Staying on the slam train, La Crosse hardcore two-piece RIG TIME takes on a lesser-known nu-metal pillar. The duo covered “Pain,” a 2006 single from New York’s Dry Kill Logic. The song embodies the entire era of chugging drop-tuned guitars, bright cymbal bell clinging, turntable scratching, and jabbered vocal delivery. 

The anger might feel dated for some, but the compilation’s spirit of action and community is in tune with Madison’s current struggles. Kohl says he chose Urban Triage because of its mission to strengthen the community on Madison’s South Side. “I’ve spent most of my best years in Madison living off Park Street, going to or booking shows at the DIY spot that was there until 2016,” Kohl says “I just have a long history with it and wanna see it thrive.”

The art accompanying the compilation will spark vivid recollections for those who experienced the May and June 2020 protests in downtown Madison, as people across the United States rose up against police violence and systemic racism. The cover is a photo of a police cruiser that was set ablaze fire while idling at a State Street intersection. 

“The title is both a nod to the civil unrest that occurred during the summer as well as a reference to the Limp Bizkit song,” Kohl says.

Not everything in this nu-metal armory is aggressive. Sam Sutherland, co-host of the aforementioned Blink-155 podcast, delivers a downtempo and moody synthwave cover of Deftones’ “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away).” Now-defunct Madison post-hardcore act Dumpster Dick provided a gentle and bluesy version of Slipknot’s “Snuff,” with saxophones and acoustic guitars setting the tone for an introspective departure from the original.

Golden Letters, an experimental chamber musician from Salt Lake City, arranged a cover of Papa Roach’s “Last Resort.” It is a triumphant and moving take on an otherwise tired track. Golden Letters cut pieces out of the nu-metal cloth and beautifully stitched it together with organs and synths. Texas alt-pop producer Shoes Robinson  offers a dreamy take on Linkin Park’s hit “Breaking The Habit.” The cover is a blend of new-wave guitars and gloomy bass lines. Robinson’s vocals draw as much on Billy Idol as they do on the late Chester Bennington.

The late 2000s core of the tracks, despite their twists and turns, have allowed Break Stuff’s creator to feel connected to the depressingly dormant music scene. “During COVID, like everyone else, I’ve missed the local music scene, so this has been a good way to scratch that itch,” Kohl says.

Break Stuff has raised over $100 for Urban Triage so far. Kohl says physical tapes are soon to be released by way of Positive Rebellion Media, a mixed media distributor that has released tapes across the metal spectrum.

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